ANALYSIS-Long-time pals Biden and McCain now spirited foes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - On becoming the Democratic vice presidential nominee in August, Joe Biden called Republican White House rival John McCain “my friend.”

Now Biden denounces McCain as “an angry man” whom he accuses of trying to take “the low road to the highest office in the land” with a campaign of fear and personal attacks.

Colleagues in the U.S. Senate for 22 years, the relationship between the two has been torn -- at least for now and perhaps forever -- as they near the Nov. 4 election.

“With friends like Joe Biden, John McCain doesn’t need enemies,” said Paul Light of New York University’s Center for the Study of Congress. “John McCain is not going to forgive. He’s not a forgiving type.”

Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has conferred with McCain and Biden on various matters the past two decades, disagreed.

“They have been very good friends. I don’t think the damage in their relationship is permanent. But it’s going to take time to repair,” Ornstein said.

“One way or the other they’re going to reach out and move on,” said James Thurber of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “They’ll need each other.”

If Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama prevails, Biden would be U.S. vice president as well as president of the Senate, where McCain would remain as the senior senator from Arizona.

If McCain wins the presidency, he will have to deal with Biden, who would still be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee provided the Democrats, as expected, retain control of the Senate.

In the Senate, Biden, 65, of Delaware, and McCain, 72, have traveled overseas together and developed reputations for reaching out to members of the opposing party.


Biden is seen as affable and has plenty of friends on both sides of the political aisle. With a history of losing his temper and taking on his own party, McCain has drawn fire from Democrats as well as fellow Republicans.

McCain jokes he’s no “Miss Congeniality.”

Since the day he was chosen as Obama’s running mate, Biden has routinely prefaced criticism of McCain -- on matters from the Iraq war to the U.S. economy -- by referring to him as “my friend, John.”

But last week, Biden ripped into McCain without referring to any friendship they may have or once had.

“What you are seeing is an angry man,” Biden said of McCain while campaigning in Florida.

With opinion polls showing Obama and Biden opening a solid lead, Biden accused McCain of attempting to divert attention from the ailing economy and his long support of unpopular President George W. Bush with personal attacks against Obama.

“I guess when you vote with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, your best hope is to attack your opponent 100 percent of the time,” Biden said.

McCain has generally ignored Biden, aiming his fire at Obama.

Just hours after Obama announced his selection of Biden as his running mate, McCain released an ad that quoted Biden as saying in 2005, “I’d be honored to run with or against John McCain because I think the country would be better off.”

McCain also ran an ad shortly before Biden’s debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Entitled “Embarrass,” the spot centered on Biden’s history of gaffes.

McCain has questioned Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers, a former violent anti-Vietnam war activist who’s now a college professor and served with Obama on an anti-poverty board.

Citing the bombing of federal buildings in the 1970s by Ayers’ group, the Weathermen, Palin this month accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” and McCain asked, “Who is the real Barack Obama?”

Biden, who in the past saluted McCain as a war hero, now seems to challenge his manhood. He dared McCain last week to ask Obama such a question to his face.

“In my neighborhood where I came from if you got something to say to a man, look him in the eye and say it,” Biden said.

Editing by Vicki Allen